From neophyte directors caught in the middle of bidding wars to anxious acquisitions execs running red lights in their SUVs on their way to a public screening, Sundance has always toed a fine line between controlled chaos and outright confusion. This year, with the advent of a new-and-improved industry office, festival organizers are hoping to take some of the edge off.
“I like the excitement of Sundance, but I don’t like it when it feels desperate,” says Sundance director of programming John Cooper, who has overseen a broad upgrade of the office. “A lot of our directors are a bit green on the business side of things, and they need help. This year’s changes really grew out of trying to facilitate that.”
The key element of the outreach is the Sundance Source Site, a password-protected website for all credentialed industry members and filmmakers. Participants were asked to register early, so that contact information would be available a month in advance. On the site, filmmakers have the option of listing key members of their sales and press team, along with cast and crew members, while potential buyers can post their Sundance “history” detailing which films they’ve bought in Park City over the years. Cooper plans on keeping the Source Site up year-round, and eventually including information about the filmmakers selected for the Institute Labs.
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The brick and mortar Industry Office (open 8 a.m.-6.p.m.) can be found at fest headquarters in the Park City Marriott. Managing the office is Sundance programming veteran Elizabeth Richardson.
“I wanted someone who could nurture the filmmakers and help them deal with the aggressiveness of the environment, but also have the savvy and contacts to handle the industry,” says Cooper. “We found that person in Elizabeth. She has a great track record, and she can be tough when she needs to be.”
Richardson says that the key to the improving the office was getting started early. “In the past, we’ve mostly helped industry guests on-site,” she says. “Now we’ve had a liaison throughout the entire fall season, to help [industry professionals] secure passes and anything else they may need.”
Although services during the festival will remain essentially the same as they have in years past, the number of staff members has been increased from four to six.
Other key improvements include an additional round of press/industry screenings (the non-public unspoolings reserved for accredited industryites). “I think it will be a very efficient way for people to see more of the program than they have in previous years,” says Richardson.
There’s also an expanded videotape library at festival headquarters.
“When you look at the other festivals, like Cannes or Venice, the filmmakers or their production companies are so well known, and everyone tends to know one another,” says Cooper. “But Sundance has always been about being discovered. Because of that, people need a means of access to one another. In a lot of ways, we’re a dating service.”
So far, it seems to be working. “A lot of films have had sales agents for a while, but for the ones that didn’t, it’s helped level the playing field and given filmmakers more control over who they decide to go with,” says Required Viewing sales rep Steven Raphael, who picked up one of his four fest projects, “Police Beat,” through the Source contact list.
“The list is great,” Raphael adds, “but the real trick is knowing who is on the list before it comes out.”